The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regularizes standards for sensitive data protection of patients. The healthcare organizations dealing with PHI – Protected Health Information must comply with HIPAA for their physical, internal processes, and network security measures. Organizations providing services like payment, treatment, and operations in healthcare are known as covered entities. The business entities accessing patients’ information or covered entities shall comply with HIPAA regulations, including sub-contractors and other entities.
Why do you need to be HIPAA compliant?
The Health and Human Services (HHS) on the direction of HIPAA, has developed regulations to protect the privacy and security of specific health information. The regulations bind healthcare providers and other entities dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI) operating digitally, including radiology, pharmacy, computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems, laboratory systems, electronic health records (EHR), and more. Many health insurance providers also deal with PHI via claims and other documents, as they have online business operations. Though digitalization provides enhanced efficiency and faster mobility, the process also raises security concerns. The healthcare data which is transferred and exchanged on digital assets are prone to higher security risks. The regulations are aimed to protect the privacy of patients’ health information and also enable entities to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care.
The framed regulations flexibly allow the entities to implement policies, procedures, and technologies based on the entity’s size, structure, and amount of risk to the patients’ and consumers’ PHI.
Data protection as per HIPAA Compliance
The usage and sharing of patient data via electronic or digital assets have been growing, and therefore, the patients’ data require high-quality care, which can be attained by complying with HIPAA regulations. By implementing a data protection strategy, healthcare organizations can –
- Meet HIPAA regulations that can be used to access, integrity controls, audit, device security, data transmission, etc.
- Ensure the security of PHI to gain the confidence of patients as well as customers.
- Provide authorized access to sensitive data to control from intruders.
The ultimate data protection strategy recognizes and protects patients’ data, structured and unstructured forms, and also offers authorized access to the data for the sake of security.
HIPAA Privacy and HIPAA Security Rules
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and as directed by HIPAA, there are certain guidelines of national standards for the protection of healthcare information. The Security Rule additionally defines a set of security standards to protect specific health information, which is either in transit or shared in a digital form. The Security Rule defends the Privacy Rule and addresses security concerns of entities related to electronic PHI (ePHI). The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for implementing the Privacy and Security Rules within HHS concerning voluntary compliance and civil money penalties.
Physical and technical safeguards, policies, and HIPAA compliance
The physical and technical safeguards required for organizations are –
- Policies that define the use and access to workstations and electronic data.
- Controlling access to the data by giving limited authorized access facilities.
- Limitations on transfer, removal or disposing of electronic media specific to ePHI.
Similarly, the technical safeguards of HIPAA also require controlled access by allowing only authorized personnel to access ePHI. The access includes –
- User Identity, automatic log-off, emergency access procedures, and encryption and decryption.
- Audit reports or recordings of hardware and software activity.
- Defined integrity controls to confirm that e-PHI is not altered or destroyed.
The HIPAA compliance also defines arrangements for IT disaster recovery and offsite backup to ensure electronic media errors and failures. The compliance enables quick and accurate recovery of PHI.
Network safeguard – It is to ensure HIPAA compliance against unauthorized access to ePHI. Network safeguard addresses all types of data transmission from the internet, private networks, cloud, email, and others.
To compliment HIPAA, the U.S. government passed a supplemental act, The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The act serves as a ruling authority by raising penalties on violation of HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. The origin of the HITECH Act was mainly due to the increased use of digital or electronic media to transfer or store health information.
The latest HIPAA updates
There are few updates and changes to HIPAA which may serve as guidance –
- Enhanced enforcement and accountability of violations
- The HHS Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR) has tightened enforcement of the guidelines. Due to this, the increased number of violations made a record-setting year with $29 million in 2018 of fines levied.
Updated penalties for HIPAA violations
The official documentation included with a tiered structure for violations with corresponding “caps,” which is now starting from $25,000 for Tier 1, updated earlier in 2019.
Potential permanent audit program
In the launch of Phase 2 of the HIPAA audit program, the HHS spoke on having a permanent audit program in the future. Whereas, while writing the amendments, the audit program was not changed to a permanent structure.
Additional regulations regarding Opioids
In the U.S., the addiction to opioids has been labeled as an “epidemic” or “crisis.” New amendments have been made to deal with the issues relating to the controversial drug. HIPAA would further make potential changes to address its compliance issues.
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